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Celebrity trainer Erin Oprea is a big fan of no-equipment exercise that can be tackled at home in minimal time. Through Instagram videos that are as entertaining as they are inspiring, the Nashville-based trainer to Carrie Underwood and Kelsea Ballerini has shown us how to work our glutes, our legs, and our entire bodies with just our bodyweight—and little else.
In her latest post, Oprea shares a five-part circuit that focuses on one of the powerhouses of the body: the core.
You can check out the video, posted on Sunday via @erinporea, here:
“I wanted to burn my abs out really quickly while watching TV,” Oprea tells SELF of the inspiration for this circuit (which yes, she performs atop an ottoman-slash-coffee table). “These are some of my favorite [core moves], and when I combine all of them…it’s super effective.”
The circuit targets essentially every muscle in your core, plus your butt and legs.
As for which specific part of the core this circuit hits, “you’re working all of it,” says Oprea. That includes the rectus abdominis (what you think when you think “abs”), transverse abdominis (the deepest core muscle that runs along your sides and spine), and obliques (muscles on the sides of your stomach). The core is a massive muscle group, and in order for it to do its job properly, it needs strength from each part, which is why it’s important to target various muscles within the core, and not just the abs. That’s exactly what Oprea’s circuit offers—along with a break from monotony, she adds. These moves “aren’t boring,” she says. “You’re not doing five hundred reps [of one move].”
However, the core isn’t the only muscle group at play during this tough set. To perform the sequence correctly, you’ll also need to activate your glutes and your legs, primarily your quads, says Oprea.
Lastly, Oprea does suggest doing jumping jacks in between each set “just to keep your heart rate going a little bit” and to get a brief reprieve from the ab work. But this circuit, on the whole, is not meant to be a cardio workout, she says.
Performing the moves correctly requires serious core activation.
Rather than quantity of reps, this circuit is all about quality, which Oprea describes is all about slow, controlled movements.“You’re not flinging your body around,” she explains. The focus is on “the engagement of the abs.”
You can get said engagement by squeezing your entire midsection (including your glutes) and tilting your pelvis slightly under. The goal, says Oprea, is to maintain this position throughout the entire circuit, not just during the most difficult portions of each move. By engaging your core correctly, you’ll save both your lower back and neck from undue stress, says Oprea, as you’ll be keeping the tension where it’s supposed to be: your core.
Continually thinking about your core as you perform the circuit can also help you stay in the correct position. Rather than zoning out as you move through the reps, “think about the muscle you are trying to work,” says Oprea. “It’s so important.” [This is a concept known as mind-muscle connection, which basically states that by thinking about the specific muscles moving during an exercise, you can help them work more efficiently.]
Here’s how to do the five-part circuit:
One-sided bicycle crunch
- Sit on the floor and lean back slightly with your upper body.
- Place your right hand behind your head and your left hand on your stomach.
- Engage your core and squeeze your glutes as you lift both legs off the floor. Your legs should be straight and your quads engaged. This is the starting position.
- Bring your left leg in toward your body and bend at the knee as you lift your upper body forward. Rotate your torso to bring your left knee to your right elbow.
- Touch your knee to your elbow (if possible) and then reverse the movement, extending your left leg back out straight and lowering your upper body back to the starting position. This is 1 rep.
- Do 15 reps. Switch and do 15 reps with your right leg meeting your left elbow.
As you perform these one-sided crunches, “don’t just your twist body,” says Oprea. Instead, actively “crunch up” by engaging your core to achieve the elbow-to-knee cross-body connection.
Also, maintain tension in the quad that is extended out straight, and make sure your back stays flat on the floor throughout the reps, she adds, which you can achieve by following the tips for core activation described above.
Alternating bicycle crunch
- Follow the same directions described above, alternating sides with each rep.
- One rep equals one crunch where your left elbow meets your right knee and one crunch where your right elbow meets your left knee.
- Do 15 reps.
Straight up pulse
If you aren’t atop a cushioned table like Oprea (we’d be surprised if you were, tbh), you can do this move on the floor by holding onto the leg of a couch or heavy armchair.
- Lie on your back and raise both arms overhead to grip your stable object of choice.
- Engage your core. Your back should be flat against the floor (not arched).
- Lift both legs and hips straight up toward the ceiling as you focus on pulling your belly button into your spine. Your butt should be off the floor as well.
- Perform small, quick pulses by lifting your legs up and down several inches. Each pulse is 1 rep.
- Do 20 reps.
Your overhead hand grip is simply meant to hold you in place, not to help your legs pulse up. That should come solely from the strength of your abs, primarily your lower abs. Also, keep your hips elevated throughout the pulses without swinging them. Again, this set is all about controlled movements.
- Lie on your back again and grip onto a stable object as you did in the previous move.
- Engage your core. Your back should be flat against the floor (not arched).
- Lift both legs and hips straight up toward the ceiling as you focus on pulling your belly button into your spine. Your butt should be off the floor as well. This is the starting position.
- Perform one small pulse up and then lower your butt, hips, and legs.
- Keeping your legs straight, continue lowering them toward the floor, staying “nice and controlled,” says Oprea.
- Stop when your legs are several inches above the floor and give your abs and glutes an extra squeeze in this position.
- Maintaining a flat back, slowly lift your legs back up to the starting position. This is 1 rep.
- Do 15 to 20 reps.
If you feel tightness or tension in your hip flexors as you do this move, soften your knees slightly, suggests Oprea.
In and out
- Sit on the floor and rest your hands several inches from your body on each side.
- Engage your abs, lift your feet off the floor, and bend your knees in toward your chest. This is the starting position.
- Lean your upper body back as you extend your legs straight out. Then, bring your upper body and legs back in to the starting position. This is 1 rep.
- Do 20 reps.
When you extend your legs, you shouldn’t feel any tension in your low back. If you do feel tension, decrease the distance that you’re leaning back, or simply stop. Also “don’t fling your body,” as you do the reps, says Oprea. Focusing on initiating the movement from your core every time.
After you’ve completed the five-part circuit, do jumping jacks for one minute. Then repeat the circuit three more times, with one minute of jumping jacks in between each, suggests Oprea.
To make this workout more beginner-friendly, decrease the number of reps, suggests Oprea, adding that in general, “as soon as [you] feel like you lost [your] form, [you] need to stop,” she says. “Don’t push through just because it says a certain number of reps.”
You can make the circuit more challenging by upping the number of reps and ditching the jumping jacks so that as soon as you finish a set, you start the next one, says Oprea. This will demand nonstop strength from your core.
Overall, this circuit can make a great quick, standalone core workout, or it can be mixed in with leg work, Oprea says. You could do one set of these core moves in between a set of leg exercises, she suggests, or scatter the exercises throughout a leg-centric workout.
However you incorporate these movements into your routine, always focus on good form, slow reps, and continual core activation.
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